Richard Dawkins says silly things (in response to saying dumb things)

Okay, advanced warning – I’ve been in a really bad mood for the last few days, so I expect this post will be even snarkier than usual.  Consider yourself warned…


So yes, in response to his pithy observation that more Trinity Cambridge people have won Nobel prizes than Muslims, Richard Dawkins, full-time biologist and part-time old man yelling at clouds, has addressed any bad feelings he totally accidentally created by explaining that he likes “nice religious leaders.”  And the Jews.  And possibly Pope Francis?  And by explaining the Nobel Peace Prize “doesn’t count.”  I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he means “counts” toward calculating who has the most, and not just in an abstract, existentialist way.  So that clears that up.

Honestly, the whole interview is super mansplainy (and available here – trigger warnings for Islamophobia, casual racism, mansplaining and general public schoolboy douchebaggery).  Dawkins revises his comments about the Nobel Prize to note that more Jews than Muslims have won, and then absolutely denies that has anything to do with race – because apparently the fact that of the 185 Jewish-identified Nobel Prize winners (excluding the 8 Peace Prize winners), only 28 of them were born outside of Europe or North America, and even the vast majority of those did most of their research in Europe or North America has nothing to do with race.  Again, as I said in my last post, the divergence in performance in things like the Nobel are massive, institutional problems having to do with the availability of resources and the privilege to define parameters.  To put it simply, people in North America and Europe get more Nobel Prizes because we invented the Prize and set all of the parameters for its awarding, and continue to control most of the resources required for it (university positions, university rankings, grant funding, collaborations, etc).

The interview is obviously set up to present Dawkins in as positive a light as possible.  It’s in fact the interviewer who throws in a passing comment about not being able to choose your religion in “a poor, religious, Muslim country.”  Pro-tip: Always be clear in what you mean by “Muslim country.”  Are we talking about Iran?  Iraq?  Pakistan?  India?  Canada?  All of those countries have large Muslim populations.  Also lots of Americans are both poor and religious, but not Muslim, and some are Muslim, but neither poor nor terribly religious.  Also some people are just poor.  These things are not actually related.

I keep trying to convince myself that Dawkins is just an apologist, and that everything he says should just be taken as atheist polemic, but with all of his talk of education, it just makes me sad that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care to understand the relationship between things like race, nationalism and culture and things like privilege and imperialism.  Religion is really not the only factor when it comes to the differences between Europe and the Middle East, and pretending it is is both (a) bad scholarship and (b) massively destructive for the people living in the rest of the world (oh, and while we’re at it, also (c.) the same thing Western imperialist said to try to convert everyone else to Christianity, a group I don’t think Dawkins wants to be associated with).  

And then, charmingly, at the end of the interview, he throws in that he’s a sucker for “nice” religious leaders.  Which is obviously untrue, because the man spoke out again Rowan Williams, who is, by all accounts, an incredibly nice guy (and also, according to some rumors, a hobbit).  Which is actually what bothers me the most about the atheist polemic that tries to claim education as its own unique identifier – if you honestly believe that all negative representatives of a religion demonstrate the awfulness of all religions ever, but that all positive representatives are merely outliers, then you are terribly bad scientist.  Some people are good and kind.  Some people are massive douchenozzles.  Some of each group are religious.  And some of each group are atheists.  The end.

About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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11 Responses to Richard Dawkins says silly things (in response to saying dumb things)

  1. You know? I really would not be sad if Richard Dawkins fell off the face of the planet tomorrow. Your characterization of his as the old man yelling at clouds is SO appropriate, because at this point I think that’s all he is–and it’s my main problem with him! He cannot be taken seriously any more because the things he says are either vile, hypocritical, contradictory, or solely intended to provoke a reaction in people so that they all pay attention to him, and the fact that people CONTINUE TO PAY ATTENTION TO HIM AND AGREE WITH HIM really irritates me. HE IS SUCH A TERRIBLE DOUCHCANOE, CAN’T YOU SEE THAT, THE WORLD? Ugh. I need to go look at pictures of kittens for a moment and calm down.

    • Sorry, I really didn’t mean to share my bad mood with the internet!

      Reading Dawkins and the R-Atheist feed, I also wonder sometimes if this vocal, apologetic movement is also in part a reaction of the growing cultural awareness of privilege and oppression. I read a really interesting piece recently on how the MRA movement has co-oped language of privilege and oppression to claim that feminism oppresses men. So many of the voices seem to come from white, middle class men, and they seem to be doing something similar, using the same language as religious communities who do face genuine oppression, in order to continue that oppression, as with Dawkins’ Islamophobia. But I have no idea how you’d study that (at least, not without having to catalog all of R-Atheist, and I’m pretty sure that would drive me insane).

    • Sabrina says:

      Wishing somebody dead is in my mind never a good thing to do. Religious discussion of any sort too quickly devolves to personal attack. Emotions are always so high. And I should say that I don’t mean to attack you so much as to make a general comment on the civility of internet. Your words are mild compared to a lot of what is out there. We would all be better off by looking at pictures of kittens regularly. I know it makes my day better.

      • As requested, my favorite pictures of cats trend: And to be pedantic, L didn’t wish Dawkins dead, she wished him nonexistence.

        Also, I do think it’s not necessarily helpful to argue for internet civility – I get where you’re coming from, and it’s tempting to say if ‘we’ (nice, normal people on the internet) are all civil, then ‘they’ (the scary mean trolls of the internet) will be nice, too, but I’ve rarely found that to be the case. I think anyone who is involved in any kind of political or social issues discussion on the internet has a bit of a mean streak, just because the responses you can get from even the most civil post can be so spontaneously and shockingly vicious. Plus, tone policing is absolutely a thing (see here and here for more discussion, the second of which is very uncivil, but that’s sort of the point).

  2. Ian says:

    Amen. Preach it, sister.

  3. FloweryHedgehog says:

    In the latest edition of “Richard Dawkins says silly things,” these responses to Honeygate made my day:

    • My new guess is that Richard Dawkins is actually performing a lengthy, Joaquin Phoenix-esque performance piece. One day soon he’s going to pop up at Cannes and be all, “Haha, gotcha!”

  4. Gonçalo says:

    i can see i’m not alone on my love for Dawkins. Good to know

  5. Sabrina says:

    I agree that Dawkins comments were rude and good people and smart people are good and smart, no matter their faith or lack of it. However, if religious law prohibits women from attending school, then half of the population will not have the oppurtunities necessary to thrive in a scientific career. The fundamentalist opposition to science education will also hinder people from making science a career. This is a problem of with many fundamentalist approaches to religion and can combine with poverty and lack of other resources to create huge obstacles.

    • Sure, but Dawkins wasn’t addressing any specific laws or codes of conduct – he was just wildly striking at a billion-person religion as if it were a homogeneous whole. Religious institutions certainly contribute to racism and sexism, but there’s a big difference between that and simply blaming religion for racism or sexism – if that were the case, we would expect to see something much closer to actual gender equality in science in secularized countries in North America and Western Europe (and we wouldn’t see examples of sexism in secularist movements, like this poor women who now suffers from PTSD for having the audacity to address sexism in the skeptic movement: I admit, that’s a lot of why I get frustrated when self-proclaimed skeptics or atheists accuse Religion (as a big, monolithic thing) of sexism – sure, religious movements can and have supported sexist and racist institutions, but painting it as something Religion does too often ends up being a way of excusing themselves from any responsibility in dismantling those institutions.

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